Cultural Musings

9 things that surprise me when I go back to America 

It’s fun for me to take trips back to the States because I notice things now that I never used to when I lived there. Nowadays I’m more accustomed to Polish culture, so some things are really surprising about life and culture in America for me, as I imagine they would be for (I wanted to write “other” here like I’m also a Pole, haha) Poles as well. Water fountains? Cute. Not impossible to buy liquor on Sundays? Weird! Free refills on drinks? Awesome! Read more to find out what else I found surprising on my last trip back to America.

1. People getting shot on a daily basis.

This is first and foremost the absolute most shocking thing for me. This is just a normal occurrence in the States. “Someone got shot today on the corner of…” is something you can hear on the news constantly. And it seems like everyone is just so jaded that they just accept it! I even heard someone in my family say in response to that sort of news report “Oh, just another day in Orlando”. How has this become so commonplace that we aren’t even phased by someone getting shot? Can you imagine if that was happening in Poland or Europe in general? It’s really hard to imagine. I can’t understand why people allow it to keep going on like it’s ok.

2. The number of restaurants

It’s really hard to imagine how all the restaurants manage to stay open as there is so much competition but they all seem to be packed at lunch time and often at dinner you have to wait for a table. I guess people just eat out a lot more than in Poland.

3. The multiculturalism

Living in Poland, which is pretty much just straight, white, Catholic people, you forget what it’s like to live among people of different races, ethnicities, sexualities. It’s nice to go back and spend time with people who are different than me.

4. The extreme friendliness

Americans, bless them, can be friendly to a fault. Every time you see a neighbor or someone at the store you have to have a small chat. It’s nice that neighbors, even those who don’t know each other, say hello. That I really like because here in Poland… not so much… but sometimes in the States it can be too much, in fact. It can be annoying cause I don’t wanna chat with everyone all the time and it seems artificial when it’s someone you really don’t know. Something between America and Poland would be a perfect medium. My husband also says it’s weird that we call people we don’t know by name like people working at stores. I guess we want to be friendly with everyone and it seems cold to call someone ma’am or sir.

5. Water fountains

I love this because I’m thirsty all the time and if I forget water I’m dying. So it’s useful that at airports or parks they have water fountains for people to use. They might not be the cleanest things on earth but sometimes you just need a little sip.

6. Free water in restaurants

Again, water. With ice! Not very common in Europe. I usually don’t drink anything at restaurants in Poland because I can’t stand paying for water, but when I go back to the states I forget that it’s normal to get tap water for free and free refills on drinks like coke and drip coffee.

7. Sales/coupons

The actual sales in Poland are like normal days at stores in the States. A lot of stores give coupons to customers who have a credit card from their store and they offer really good deals, like 20% off one item, just to get you in the store. In Poland, there’s basically nothing like that. Or there is a point system but you have to collect points for like 5 years just to get one discount. On Black Friday most stores had at least 30% off, some 50% or 60% off the whole store. If that happened in Poland, people would kill each other.

8. Liquor stores and special days/times for buying alcohol

In Florida, I don’t know about the rest of America, you can only buy liquor in special liquor stores, not in grocery stores or supermarkets. Also, again in Florida, you can’t buy liquor, so hard alcohol, on Sundays. I guess it’s a religious thing. Imagine if that were a thing in Poland!

9. Checks

I really can’t believe people still use checks in America, but they do! It’s like, why?? Checks are risky, they take time to process and you have to fill them out! In Poland, everyone makes bank transfers or pays by card (or I guess old people pay for stuff at the post office, but still). DUH. Time to get rid of these ancient forms of payment! Also, there’s no Paypass!

So clearly I had a lot of reflections on my last trip to America. Each trip shows me how year by year I’m morphing more and more into a Pole. It’s kinda weird but I feel less and like American and more and more Polish. Like I even say “them” when I talk about Americans now and “us” when I talk about Poles! How strange indeed!

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  • Reply K 4 January 2018 at 15:37

    The American friendliness can be too much at times, especially when I am in a hurry and need to arrange something quickly. It’s a mission impossible, because you have to start every interaction with the same old tune: “Hey, how are you doing today?”, “Good, how are you?”, “Good, thank you! What can I do for you?” – by that time my train is already gone. It’s exhausting to have to go through all this just to ask for some change or to find our where restrooms are. Argh…

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 4 January 2018 at 21:38

      Hah I know what you mean! It’s just a small thing but sometimes you’re not in the mood! or don’t have the time, as you said!

    • Reply Jordan 7 January 2018 at 06:04

      I cannot stand the ‘gthay’ nonsense. Even worse is when people get upset you don’t ask them back how they are doing as if they would say anything else but ‘good’.

      It’s enough to drive someone to an insane asylum.

  • Reply Darjusz 4 January 2018 at 15:43

    Aaaah. Again I’ve learned new stuff on my dreamed country USA LOL 🙂

    I think that the cooking and eat-out industry has grown because food cost is drastically lower in the states than in Poland. Also, I think it’s waaaay easier to run a diner/drive-in business in the States than in Poland mostly because of taxes and us not being used to eating in town/outside.
    Good insight about the beverages, I was under the impression that you also need to pay for the refills and for water in the restaurants. That’s a really nice and helpful thing.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 4 January 2018 at 21:38

      Hey Darjusz – thanks for your nice comment. I agree with you that the prices are much lower for food, specifically at restaurants. That’s a good point. Probably why they’re much more popular!

  • Reply Marek 4 January 2018 at 15:59

    There’s no PayPass in the US? Seriously? xD
    In Poland it got adopted so fast. Plus the Polish payment system Blik that uses banks’ smartphone apps makes paying effortlessly really effortless 😉

  • Reply dragos 4 January 2018 at 17:21

    ad 1 – at first glance I thought it’s constantly the same people who are getting shot, like ,,dammit, I’ve just been shot third time this week and it’s Thursday”
    ad 3- perhaps they are just closeted
    ad 6 – some venues in Poland offer soda pop refills
    ad 9 – you guessed correctly I guess 😉

  • Reply J 4 January 2018 at 19:16

    1. I doubt very much that you have the guts to acknowledge just who is doing most of the shooting in the U.S. Hint – it’s a demographic conspicuously absent in Poland.

    2. Meh. Eight times the people with five times the money and you get more restaurants. Not rocket science.

    3. Sorry, let me finish throwing up… Ok, I’ll just keep it short and remind you that you go back and enjoy that wonderful “multiculturalism” any time you want – permanently. And yet you don’t. Easier to virtue signal about how wonderful it is to live with “diversity” than to actually live in it, eh?

    4. Meh. Mentioned on every list of “insights” like this.

    5. Whatever

    6. Nothing new here either

    7. True enough, but an outgrowth of idiot consumer culture

    8. You can only buy liquor in certain stores in PL too – stores with liquor licenses. Wow. Also, stores in PL don’t sell alcohol on two Sundays a month because the ENTIRE STORE is closed. Which is weirder, really?

    9. Can’t defend checks apart from a reminder that there was actually a world before you were born and some elements of that world persist, no matter how outdated or archaic. Also, there most certainly is the equivalent of Paypass in Florida – Apple Pay. The reason it’s not as prevalent in America (stop calling it “the States”!) is the sheer number of terminals that would have to be replaced and the tens of millions of cards to be reissued. It was easy to implement Paypass in PL because it coincided with the explosion of the use of credit (debit) cards. What, you think the largest consumer market in the world doesn’t have a good reason for not having something that facilitates more purchases?

    Oh, save us the crap about you being “less American” and “more Polish”. You write a blog about your experiences in PL as an American, for God’s sake. If you’re “more Polish” now, then end the blog. You went home for Thanksgiving – how Polish is that?

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 4 January 2018 at 21:37

      I will comment on a few things:
      1. Mmm well it’s about who’s doing the shooting, the ease of obtaining a gun is what I’m getting at here, which is what makes it so prevalent.
      2. Why do I have to stop calling it the States? What difference does it make?
      3. Well my whole blog is about toeing the line between American and Polish culture, so it’s only natural that I feel that way and it’s implied in each post… it’s the essence of this blog and why people read it. So I think it’s ok to directly state it occasionally as well.
      4. If I’m so prosaic and boring, why read??

  • Reply Katie 5 January 2018 at 15:48

    I haven’t been back yet since we left a year and a half ago, but one of the things I was talking to Damian about awhile back was how nice it is to go into a store here, say a friendly hello but then shop in peace without getting harassed. I remember back when Buckle was a popular store, there used to be a challenge to see if you could get to the back of the store and back out without at least 1 person offering you a fitting room to try something on. Then, when I worked in retail for a hot minute in the states, we used to have to stalk customers as they came in. That’s definitely not something I miss now that we live here! It’s refreshing to go into a store and just look without the pressure! Also, it also boggles my mind that paying by check is still a thing. Ha! Such a foreign concept to explain sometimes to my students!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 February 2018 at 14:51

      Yeah you’re right, it really is comfortable not to feel harassed in a store by the salespeople. Or like forced into a conversation. Whenever we go back we feel a little irritated by that cause like we buy stuff and then the people talk and talk and talk while we’re paying and it’s like ugh STOP. But sometimes it’s really nice so it just depends 🙂

  • Reply Natalia 5 January 2018 at 20:24

    I really like to read your posts about the differences between cultures, because I’ve never been anywhere outside Europe.
    However, I would like to point out one thing. I don’t think that Poles are mostly straight. Actually, I myself am a part of LGBT+ community and I know a lot of people that are as well (I was actually surprised how many) . I think that your impression that people are mostly straight may come from the fact that we are not so open about our sexuality. Also, I think that young people are more and more okay with non-heteronormative behaviour, and hopefully in 10-20 years our society won’t be so scared to talk about it.

    And, I’m so jealous of free water in restaurants because prices for a glass of water in Polish restaurants are ridicuolous!

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 February 2018 at 14:49

      When the price of water is the same as for beer you know there’s something wrong! 🙂 It’s interesting to me that you say there’s a big LGBT+ community because I really honestly don’t know any gay people in Poland, which is weird for me! Scratch that I do have one gay student but he told me he was gay by basically whispering that he went to a gay club for new year’s and that was all he said! So I was like ok, cool, and that was the end of the discussion. It’s really too bad :/ but like you said just give it a few years and it’ll be more normalized.

  • Reply Asia Lengiewicz 5 January 2018 at 22:52

    Very interesting read as always Leah, touching on lighter and heavier topics too. Living in England, I’ve experienced more multiculturalism than I ever did in Poland as a child, and it is something I’m definitely greatful for – I feel some Polish people are scared of the unknown and a bit too stuck in tradition when it comes to this, of course I highight some, not all Polish people.
    The free refills thing, I am so used to just getting tap water in England in restaurants, that when in Poland they try to charge me I get frustrated as I know its achievable!
    Finally, the point about alcohol – its so strange that there’s such strict regulations in the US, in England you can buy alcohol at the petrol station or pretty much anywhere that sells any sort of beverage. I’ve also heard of a state in the US where restaurants can’t have openly seen prep areas for cocktails, so not to influence those underage?! This is something that’s absolutely crazy to me.
    I look forward to reading your next post! ?

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 February 2018 at 14:46

      Hey Asia! I didn’t realize that water was free in English restaurants as well! Nice to know for future trips 🙂 I think in Poland people just don’t really drink tap water, even at home, so they probably wouldn’t really be interested in drinking it in a restaurant either. I wonder how that would go down if they started offering it? Maybe they just don’t think it would be accepted! Hah oh god… America is insane about drinking seriously. It’s amazing the things which we desperately try to protect young people from and the things which actually seem like serious threats – gun possession, for instance – that we don’t even seem to worry about! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  • Reply Aimee 8 January 2018 at 16:54

    Cute article, Leah.
    J, annoying AF.

    • Reply Leah Morawiec 8 February 2018 at 14:53

      hahaha I <3 you.

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